Tween Parenting 101

This is what you are trying to avoid.
This is what you are trying to avoid.

My daughter is twelve and will soon leave the tween stage behind (although I’d argue that thirteen fits more as “tween” than “teen”). I’ve already written about parenting a tween once, but will revisit the topic and go into a little more depth today.

For some reason, parents (moms, especially) appear to be more terrified of the tween stage than the teen stage. On one hand, I get it; this is the first time when you look at your little kid and see glimpses of a walking-talking-adult. One day you kid is playing with toys and the next they are putting on makeup, complaining about their clothes, or spending way too much time in front of the mirror in the morning. Then they go right back to the toys.

On the other hand, I’m not going to pretend that the teen stage isn’t the scarier of the two. I mean . . . come on, I was teen once. I know what happens.

Parents who think the tween stage is worse probably mean it is worse for them. You lose your baby. You probably start to spend less time together, stop playing silly games, and end up regulated to walk behind your kid and her friends at the mall. You adjust to it and find new ways of bonding or spending time together, but tween is decidedly the end of your baby. The teen stage on the other hand, is worse for the kid. Sure, they might hate you in that annoying adolescent way. They might rebel and you might struggle to find the right path. But overall, they are the ones in the hot seat here. This is when stuff really matters and when what happens can have a drastic effect on their future, good or bad.

So let’s get to it.

Managing expectations
I touched on this in my last post, but it is worth mentioning again (and – I would argue – a very important part of parenting in general). Your sweet angel probably isn’t going to want to wear that Disney dress or themed smocked overalls. Get over it. You probably wouldn’t want to wear it either – you’ll notice they don’t really have a lot of that in adult sizes.

Think about what you really want from your relationship with your kids and what you want to provide them. If you get hung up on trying to postpone adolescence or to create a mini-me, you might miss your chance to plant those seeds.

Finding new connections
Okay, so you can’t [insert stereotypically parent/kid activity here] anymore. So what? Find something else you can relate to in your kid’s growing interests or search for something new the two of you can appreciate together. My husband easily connected with our daughter over computer games and their tween relationship is all the better for it. It might not seem like much, but approaching your child in this new “mature” way is a great transition of your relationship. Even something as simple reading a new book series, shopping for shoes, cooking, or decorating a bedroom can reopen communication with a reluctant tween. It takes it from a basic “mom is playing with me” to “mom and I love to do this together.”

Loosening the reins
Now is the time to start letting you child take control of some things. Give them responsibility for more than taking the trash out and keeping their room clean. I’m talking bigger decisions here – keeping up with homework on their own, planning outings and projects on their own, maybe buying some of their own things if you have a good allowance system (we do not). If you don’t start doing this incrementally now, you will end up with a teenager you don’t trust to handle life responsibly and will release a woefully unprepared adult out into the world.

Setting boundaries
Yes, we all know about setting boundaries for our kids – and that still applies here – but I’m talking about boundaries for you. Say you are loosening the reins by letting your child take an active role in her purchases. This is great; you get to teach her money management and prioritization. But don’t get too mixed up and let her into adult conversations about financial issues or stress. See, you jumped over a boundary there. That is just an example, but you can imagine how this might apply to many situations. She might be getting older, but your kid is not your friend. She still needs to be parented even if she is thriving with her newfound responsibly.

Taking time to teach
In my opinion, the tween stage is a great time to teach your kids how to deal with their emotions. They are just now starting to deal with a whole bunch of hormones and mood swings, but they still enjoy talking with you and won’t just shut you down like a sullen teen might. Use that to your advantage! Model good stress relief techniques, anger management, and appropriate emotional response. If you are lucky, some of this will stick when their minds become invaded by little teenage hormone bugs. My kid has a temper, so we work on counting-to-ten type of techniques now when consequences are very low. It will pay off in the end.

And remember: Your kid is crazy. So is mine.
Sometimes they are downright mean, but everybody goes through it and have for years.
You’ll survive.

10 Ways Tweens Are Like Gremlins = next post?
Maybe my next post should be “10 Ways Tweens Are Like Gremlins.”

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